Every day, new words are added to the English language. Sometimes they’re good, sometimes they’re bad, and sometimes they’re codified as part of our cultural history by the fine folks updating our dictionaries. (A 2017 wishlist: Add the adjective “deadass” and ignore “bigly.”)
The dictionarists (est. 2017) at Merriam-Webster have released a new tool that allows users to pinpoint when, exactly, this process starts happening. Time Traveler is an exhaustive listing of the origin of nearly every word you can think of, their dates assigned through the first time a given term made its way into print.
While Merriam-Webster’s press release for the project cites use cases like looking up the words introduced the year you were born, what sticks out most from perusing Time Traveler is how a quick trip through the last few decades of new terms reveals seismic shifts in global culture. 2007, for example, sees “listicle” and “hashtag” alongside “sharing economy.” In 2004, “social media” and “waterboarding” are introduced. 1992 has “website,” “URL,” “HTML,” and a handful of other now-common internet terms next to “Taliban” and “Gulf War syndrome.”
Time Traveler is a great tool for education and trivia, but also a fascinating way to see how the words we create reflect the times we live in. Check it out for yourself to marvel at the the long history of our language, including but not limited to the origins of the term “rock snot.”